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Amazon and Overstock are locked in a price war to offer cheaper hardcover books

Amazon and Overstock are locked in a price war to offer cheaper hardcover books

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Amazon box (STOCK)
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If you've been looking to order a dead-tree book on Amazon lately, you're in luck: the prices of many bestselling and fast-rising hardcover books have now been slashed by 50 or 65 percent of their retail list prices, and are cheaper than the Kindle ebook versions in many cases. The move, which was first observed Saturday by publishing news outlet Shelf Awareness, appears to have come without any public acknowledgement nor fanfare from Amazon. But it seems to be in direct response to rival ecommerce hub's recent announcement that beginning July 22, it was discounting "hundreds of thousands of titles" at 10 percent below below Amazon's prices.

"hundreds of thousands of titles."

As a consequence of Amazon's countermove, though, prices for many new hardcovers on both websites are now identical or extremely close, as a quick, unscientific survey of the new bestsellers by GigaOm reveals. In fact, today Amazon has gone a step further, offering a new "Fall Books" promotion that features many hotly-anticipated upcoming hardcover titles, including Doctor Sleep, Stephen King's sequel to The Shining, also heavily discounted off their list prices.

But although the new price war on paper books may be good in the short-term for customers, some book publishers and Shelf Awareness warn that the race to the bottom is ultimately harmful for the book publishing industry, because it will alter consumer expectations toward lower book prices going forward. At the moment, Overstock is saying that its deep discounts are only a temporary promotion, though the company declined to provide an end date for the discounted deals to GigaOm. We're in contact with Amazon and will update as we learn more.

Update: A spokesman for publishing company Random House, which is behind such bestsellers as Dan Brown's new novel Inferno, the upcoming Jack Reacher novel, and a forthcoming nonfiction title Lawrence in Arabia, all hardcovers Amazon has drastically discounted, declined to comment to The Verge on specific pricing arrangements with retailers. But Random House's spokesperson did say in general, "prices are set by the retail marketplace," and that "booksellers set the prices for consumers."

"that kind of constant discounting devalues the product."

Dennis Johnson, cofounder of Melville Press, a small independent Brooklyn publishing company that has books listed on Amazon and is the publisher of such titles as Every Man Dies Alone and this year's Cotton Tenants, has written several scathing indictments of Amazon's moves on his long-running book news blog, MobyLives. He told The Verge the price war is "particularly dangerous for little publishers like [Melville], because that kind of constant discounting devalues the product, and eventually, you have to bring your prices in line." Johnson said he fears a future where Amazon controls most publishing and where, as a consequence, people aren't exposed to smaller, more avant-garde titles like the kind his company offers.